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 And Another Thing

No need for an asterisk after Augusta

Angel Cabrera has won the Masters in a playoff, in 2009, and now he’s lost it in one, ultimately being put to the sword this past April by Adam’s Scott’s monstrously long putter on Augusta National’s 10th green, the second extra hole. The story of what was a tremendous denouement to a thrilling tournament is told elsewhere.

As, of course, is the matter of the Tiger Woods drop. You’ll probably know the essence of the story. On the 15th hole in the second round, Tiger’s third shot hit the flagstick and rebounded into the water in front of the green. It was a shocking piece of bad luck. He dropped his ball, executed a perfect pitch shot and holed out for a bogey six. For a while at least…

A television viewer noted that Woods had not dropped his ball as near as possible (the divot was obvious) to the place from where he had hit his original pitch. They rang the club. This is where some of the ‘grassy-knoll’ conspiracy theories kicked in. I can’t imagine the odds of some nonentity getting the chance to impart information over the phone to an Augusta official while the Masters is in progress. Can you?

“The rules committee, originally prompted by a TV viewer who just happened to have their cell number…” wrote Jim Moriarty. Anyhow, the committee called it wrong, figured Woods had committed no infraction and so didn’t assess him the appropriate two-shot penalty before he signed his scorecard. It was when Woods declared at a press conference that he had dropped the ball “two yards further back” in order to make the shot easier that the Masters officials realised they had a problem; one they could have avoided by talking to him.

Woods did not cheat here; he misunderstood the rules. In later choosing, via a generously wide interpretation of Rule 33-7, to hand Woods a two-shot penalty rather than the disqualification which had seemed an inevitable consequence of what he’d done, Augusta National protected not only him but its own error. Many former players and commentators, Nick Faldo included, lambasted Woods for not doing the ‘right thing’ and withdrawing, but I’d bet it never crossed his mind.

It wasn’t his fault the officials had decided to invoke a discretionary rule (“The rule being: ‘DQ Tiger? Are you crazy?”

noted Golf World in America) that benefited him. Whatever, the 15th hole on Friday wound up costing him three shots and he lost the Masters by four.

In part because of Cabrera’s role in proceedings, it was impossible not to recall the fate of a different Argentinian at Augusta; one who didn’t make it to a playoff. In a piece for The New Yorker magazine in 1968, the late, esteemed American golf writer, Herbert Warren Wind, described the terrible moment in Masters history when at that year’s tournament Roberto de Vicenzo, the reigning Open champion, was denied the chance to contest a playoff for the title with Bob Goalby because of a scorecard error. He had signed for a four on the 17th hole rather than the three he had taken. Since his error had been to his disadvantage, the score stood, meaning he was accredited with a 66 rather than the 65 he had in fact shot. He thus finished a shot behind Goalby, the champion. Tiger’s ‘mistake’ in signing for a six rather than an eight on the 15th would ‘normally’ have led to his disqualification.

The unfortunate de Vicenzo aside, the key figure 45 years ago as to what happened next was Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur golfer in history, winner of the original (as opposed to the Tiger) Grand Slam, and founder of the Masters. Wind takes up the tale after Jones had been informed of what had occurred.

‘Before taking any action, the four co-chairmen of the tournament rules committee wanted to have Jones’s opinion, and they quickly assembled at his cottage. Jones made it very clear that his primary concern was to find some way, if there was a way, of waiving the rule that would cost de Vicenzo a tie and the chance to win in a playoff. In the opinion of Isaac Grainger, the most experienced rules man present, the only avenue was to make the freest interpretation possible of what constituted an official return of a scorecard by a player. However, the precedent was that once a player had left the roped-off area around the last green…the card must be regarded as officially returned. Jones then asked the group if there was any other loophole they could think of. There wasn’t, he was told – not without breaking the rules.

“That’s all I want to know,” Jones said.’

Wind added: “The only way that Jones could have done what he wanted to do was to place himself above the rules of golf, and he would be the last man to do that.” Can one say the same of his successors?

One final point. It’s as well Woods did not win this Masters. Sports Illustrated had apparently drafted a cover reading ‘15*’.

Had Tiger ever got past Nicklaus’s 18 majors with this one among them, that asterisk would have been there forever.

June 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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